The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), condemns the excessive fines imposed on the Moldovan weekly Ziarul de Garda by the Central Court of Chisinau. If imposed, the 500,000 Mdl (approx. 30,000 EUR) fine may result in the closure of the publication.
On 10 February 2011, Ziarul de Garda published a story on two district prosecutors allegedly involved in corruption. The case was previously investigated by the Centre for Combating Economic Crime and Corruption (CCECC). The charges were later dropped and the two prosecutors sued the paper, demanding compensation for moral damage.
On 1 August 2011, the Central Court of Chisinau ruled that the publication should pay 30 000 EUR. The paper does not have those funds, and if the decision is enforced, its owners may have to sell personal assets and face criminal charges.
Ziarul de Garda has three weeks to appeal the decision with the Appeals Court of Chisinau. However, there is a legal provision in Moldova, according to the papers director, Alina Radu, that states that prosecutors may demand that all the accounts of the publication be blocked until the final decision. The paper had experienced this problem in previous court cases. That provision is meant to secure the funds if the final decision confirms the current payment demands. In practical terms, blocking the funds would indirectly mean the paper’s closure.
Considering that courts in Moldova tend to be slow, the trial against Ziarul de Garda has been surprisingly fast. “The excessive fine imposed on the weekly and the speed of the court procedure make me believe that the Ziarul de Garda case may be about press freedom as much as about defamation. Imposing excessive fines implies silencing the media. I urge Moldovan courts to reconsider the decision and rule according to international standards,” said Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General.